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Christina’s Acoustic Neuroma

My acoustic neuroma story began in the winter months of 2003. I felt as though I had an ear infection and continually needed to “pop” my ears. I went to my GP a few times, and she kept telling me everything looked fine and that I should just take an over-the- counter decongestant. So I did…nothing really changed, but I figured doctors know best. In February 2004, I was in Whistler, Canada for a snowboarding adventure and kept getting tremendous headaches on the same side of my head that my ear had been bothering me—so I said as soon as I get back home, I’m going back to the doctor and telling them that something is wrong. So that is exactly what I did. The doctor sent me for a hearing test, which showed that I had moderate hearing loss on my left side, the same side that was bothering me. Now, considering I was a 27-yearold female, in otherwise good health, this alerted my doctor who referred me to an ENT. My ENT seemed confused as to what was going on, so he thought an MRI would be a good preventative measure. I just didn’t think it was necessary, but figured “why not”. So I went for my MRI at the end of March 2004, and the very next day I got a phone call that explained it all—you have an acoustic neuroma.

These words really scared me. Being an internet feign, I had already researched all the possibilities of what the MRI may show and was confident that I was safe from having a brain tumor since the odds were so much in my favor. But once I found out that one of my greatest fears had been made reality, I couldn’t understand why, a healthy, young female such as myself could be the anomaly. In any case, I was on it—determined that nothing would stop me from being 100% in no time. I made multiple appointments with various doctors in the area (luckily living in the Bay Area made this quite easy). I was pretty convinced by all my research and the doctors I talked to that surgery was the only way to go. However I made an appt. with a doctor I knew at Stanford just to see what his thoughts were being he was a neurosurgeon and an old family friend. When I went to see him, all my researching and previous thoughts were thrown out the window. He brought in a team of doctors who had worked on other AN patients and completely blew me away with the statistics they had gathered on the success of using the CyberKnife as a treatment for this condition. What made me stop and think this was the way to go was when he told me if one of his daughters had been diagnosed with an AN, there was no doubt he would want them to have radiosurgery over traditional surgery any day.

Wow. Now I really had a decision to make. I did a lot of talking, soul- searching and finally decided upon CyberKnife as my treatment of choice. Besides all the amazing statistics on success rates, I was swayed by the chance of keeping some of my hearing, which surgery was sure to take away from me. My dad also had a great point—if for any reason this treatment method didn’t work, at least I’ve bought some time and let technology advance even more so that in the future who knows what will be held in store for people diagnosed with this disease.

So, in May 2004, I underwent three consecutive days of CyberKnife treatments, and I must say, they were pretty anti-climatic! Piece of cake—went out for coffee, shopping and some relaxation every day after my treatments. The hardest part was over—now it was time to be positive, wait and see the how the results shaped up over the next few years.

In November 2004, I underwent my sixth-month check up and everything looked on track. The size of my AN had increased by about 20%, but that is okay (due to swelling from the trauma) and it will go down over time. The good news was that the inside was of the tumor was dying—yeah! It was evident on the MRI because the color is darkened due to lack of blood flow. My hearing test showed my clarity in word recognition had been reduced. I knew this was the case because it was muffled when I would try to talk on the phone. So, I went on a short course of steroids to reduce swelling to see if this was the cause. Sure enough, I had my hearing tested a month later and the results were much more in line with my hearing before the treatments. For now I’m going to wait and see what happens as time reduces the swelling since I do not want to be on steroids for the long term. If muffled hearing (on only one side) is the only thing that happens to me from this treatment, I’ll be eternally thankful! Conventional surgery would have taken away all my hearing and that just wasn’t an option!

In January 2005 I was back out on my snowboard, just like normal. I promised myself that nothing would stop me from being 100% in no time—and CyberKnife truly helped me make that a reality.

 

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